Updated on 09/16/2011 8:22AM

BC Countdown - Distaff: Hennig: Why Azeri above Summer Colony?


Mark Hennig, the trainer of Summer Colony, has done the math, and it doesn't quite add up. Summer Colony came to Santa Anita in February for the La Canada Stakes, and beat Azeri in her own backyard. But as the year has progressed, when the two best older fillies in the country are mentioned, Azeri's name is usually placed first, and not just because of alphabetical order.

"I don't understand it," Hennig said, his voice calm, not shrill. "I think people have put a lot of emphasis on Grade 1 races. They ran their big races in California before New York. Our big races don't start until Saratoga. It looks like Azeri has kind of beat the same group that we beat when she was second."

The time was right for Summer Colony to head west for the La Canada, but since then, she has remained on the East Coast, piling up major victories in preparation for a showdown in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park on Oct. 26. Her final prep comes on Saturday at Belmont Park, in the Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame Stakes, in which Summer Colony will seek her 10th victory in her last 12 starts.

The Distaff is shaping up as one of the best races of this year's World Thoroughbred Championships. A number of the top contenders will be in action this week. With the exception of Farda Amiga, who is coming to the Distaff off works alone, and Azeri, whose start in Wednesday's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting came after deadline for this issue, the remaining eight horses in Daily Racing Form's top 10 are running this weekend.

In addition to Summer Colony, the Beldame is scheduled to include Allamerican Bertie, Imperial Gesture, and Mandy's Gold. Another potential contender, Bella Bellucci, is out of the race, and will miss the rest of the year, trainer Neil Drysdale said on Wednesday. "She wasn't training as well as she had," said Drysdale, who said Bella Bellucci would race next year.

At Keeneland on Sunday, the Grade 1, $500,000 Overbrook Spinster Stakes is scheduled to include Dancethruthedawn, Take Charge Lady, Victory Ride, and You.

Every one of those horses had the option of running in New York or Kentucky. Both the Beldame and Spinster are at 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as the Distaff, but the Beldame is around one turn, the Spinster two.

Hennig opted for the Beldame because Summer Colony is based in New York. "I didn't want to ship to Keeneland, come back to Belmont, and ship again to Arlington," Hennig said. But Hennig admitted his late-running filly probably has a better tactical advantage going two turns.

"A one-turn mile and an eighth is a little different," he said. "It can turn into a sprint sometimes, and Summer Colony is not a sprinter. But I anticipate there will be a pretty solid pace in front of us. And she's become very versatile. She can overcome things."

Steve Flint, the trainer who sent Allamerican Bertie from Kentucky to New York to face Summer Colony, said he did it to because "I want to see how she stacks up before the big race."

"If you're going to run against the best, you want the best race," said Flint. He added he would not mind an off track. "I've got two Indian chiefs doing a rain dance at Belmont," he said.